Tracking a vintage toy Dimetrodon

A Permian scene. Three Dimetrodons explore a shoreline in what will one day become Prince Edward Island. (Robin Rowland)


On February 21, Parks Canada announced the discovery of fossilized tracks of the Permian sail-backed mammal like reptile Dimetrodon (Bathygnathus borealis) in the red rocks of Prince Edward Island. A Dimetrodon walked through mud about 290 million years ago.

That inspired my next project to recreate the classic paintings by artist Charles R. Knight of the primeval world. In this case, his work on the Permian of Texas for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

My model compared to Charles R. Knight’s painting.

As with previous projects, I used Louis Marx “dinosaur” toys that I had as a kid and found in an old box.

Recreating the Charles R Knight paintings with old Marx dino toys

A vintage toy wooly mammoth

The three toys were painted to match, as much as possible, the Knight painting. There are more colourful Dimetrdons in the current imagination of artists which can be found on Google Images.

I had two specific aims. The first was the model had to have Dimetrodon tracks. Second the mud had to be red, the same as the famous red rocks of Prince Edward Island. The fossil tracks were found on reddish rock.

Top view of the diorama. You can see tracks in the bottom left corner while the Dimetrodon on the right is walking through the mud. (Robin Rowland)


The “outcrop” is from a contemporary toy dinosaur collection from China sold by Walmart. My guess is that it’s supposed to be a volcano. But for this diorama and to be more true to the scale and the time, I turned it into a rotten tree stump. The fern is an HO scale model railway accessory.

I followed the usual diorama practice of working within a cheap dollar store frame. In this case I kept the glass to simulate the water. I painted the base brown and added some model railway scenic green foam (which is barely visible as I intended). Then I added a thin wash of brown paint on the top of the glass. I mixed plaster so that it is was thick and heavy cream like, with red and raw umber paint mixed in. I let it set for about an hour and then used the toy Dimetrodon to create the footprints.

A close shot of one of the Dimetrodon.

A vintage toy wooly mammoth

A wooly mammoth in the snow (Robin Rowland)

My latest vintage toy repaint, a 1950s Louis Marx Toys wooly mammoth, photographed in the first day of snow in Kitimat, BC, December 8, 2918. (Normally we get snow in the first week of November not the second week of December)

The wooly mammoth (Robin Rowland)
The wooly mammoth (Robin Rowland)

Recreating the Charles R Knight paintings with old Marx dino toys

Two Tyrannosaurus Rex hunt a triceratops in a recreation of the famous Charles R. Knight painting

The original.

A sabre tooth tiger (Smilodon), watches for prey in a recreation of the Charles R. Knight painting.

How the idea started and how I recreated the scene.

A few months ago as I finally unpacked a box of old palaeontology books that I collected from the 1970s to the 1990s, I unexpectedly found a box of my dinosaur toys from when I was a kid in the 1950s. Most them were made by the toy company Louis Marx and Company, while others were cheaper knockoffs.   Whether from Louis Marx or knockoffs, the toys are all based on  paintings by either the Charles R. Knight or by Rudolph Zallinger.

Now there’s a problem with these toys. They are no longer scientifically valid, our knowledge of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures has grown immensely over the past fifty-odd years. The body plan of the dinosaurs is completely different from the slow lumbering reptiles that was the conventional wisdom in the 1950s. The toys are obsolete–or are they?

So I decided to use the toys to recreate those original paintings that I loved as a kid. I started with Charles R. Knight because in that box of dinosaur books was one of Charles R. Knight paintings that I bought in Chicago years ago.

Planning the T-Rex scene using the toys before I repainted them.

Planning the sabre-tooth scene.

There’s more to come.  I am going to post a repainted Woolly Mammoth as soon as the snow flies.  I have the sea creature that didn’t fit and had to be renamed and some other photos from a toy photography class I taught in the summer.

More toy dinosaur photos

Some images of dinosaurs from a toy photo class I taught in July.

Triceratops (vintage Louis Marx toy) (Robin Rowland)

A brontosaurus (as it was still called in the 1950s). Another vintage Louis Marx toy from the1950s. (Robin Rowland)

A pachycephalorsaurus on a rock. Not sure who manufactured this one, a student brought to the class (Robin Rowland)